Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Infiltration ( Chapter 48 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Twilight and its three and two half sequels are the creation of Stephenie Meyer. This story is fanfiction based on characters, settings and concepts from Twilight, its first three sequels and the first half of Midnight Sun, all of which are the creation of Stephenie Meyer. No party other than the submitting author may alter this work in any way other than font size and other reasonable accommodations to formatting.

Thank you so much for tuning in after a six-month hiatus. I took some time off to write something for another fandom, something very time-sensitive, and I'm very glad that I did because it's probably my best work.

For years, I've been trying to finish this story before November so that I can participate in National Novel Writing Month without it hanging over me. "Got to finish IKMD before NaNo." "Okay, it's March. I have to finish IKMD before NaNoWriMo." It never works. For those who don't know, NaNoWriMo involves writing 50,000 words of any single story. The goal is to go for length and completion rather than for quality. Most of the time we try to dance a ballet; NaNo is running a marathon. The unofficial motto is, "It's okay if it's crap; just get it done."

So I made finishing part IV of this story my NaNo project for 2013.

I've got a huge file of scenes with Edward and Bella's future and their ultimate fate. It's all very rough, but during that time, I got past one of my major roadblocks and discovered a great new plot twist that I think you're all going to like. Or hate. But you'll hate it in a way that you'll like.

The main reason this wasn't posted during the first week of December is that the last chapters of part III are giving me a huge amount of trouble. You guys have stuck with this fandom and this story for so long that you deserve the best ending I can write or at least something that makes sense and is in harmony with the rest of the story. So I must apologize for the filler—sometimes you've got to go with the chapter you have even if another six months might make it perfect.


"We've been waiting a millennium and a half for the Italian scum to be challenged. If they fall, we will be here to see it," –Breaking Dawn


Anwar was a modern town, more so than many other places in India. Over the past fifteen years, the government had attempted to modernize rural areas, but results had been intermittent. The thriving tertiary and quaternary economies were taking a long time to spread from the major cities. It wouldn't have been most large covens' first choice for a base of operations. A small group might find it ideal; with so many people strange to the town, it wouldn't be too hard to find someone who would never be reported missing. However, the Rumanians were never going to be able to keep hidden, at least not for long, in a place this tightly wired.

Demetri and I went in with Rolfe as our third. Felix was with us for the moment, but later he would lead another team, poised in the suburbs. We were reasonably confident that the Romanians' main stronghold was not in the city proper. Demetri and I would gather intel and transmit the information to Caius so that he could decide which of the dozens of pre-calculated strategies to implement. There was the chance that the three of us would be detected before we could locate the enemy lair—there was even a chance that they had no lair—but that was the value of sending the entire guard at once. Even if we were caught, the Romanians would have no time to make more than token preparations.

There were still plenty of humans on the streets, which glowed with lights like a slice of Time's Square. New and refurbished movie theaters played Bollywood and Western films, and well-dressed young people slapped down cash and pressed their thumbprints against a scanner to pay for tickets. A girl projected her holo-tablet onto the smooth wall of a café and showed her friend a video. College students and factory workers, many away from home for the first time getting their first taste of disposable income.

On a nightly basis, the Romanians sent agents into the city center under human identities. It was all rather ingenious. Because the big data processing operation required twenty-four-seven monitoring, there was always a night shift. For the past few years, all the managers on that night shift had been vampires from the Romanian coven. They didn't exercise the kind of long-term control that had allowed Marcus to sculpt a vampire haven out of masonry and steel, but they had made a great deal of headway in the time they'd spent here, even to the point where they felt confident feeding within the city itself.

Caius and Aro had both seemed a bit disgusted by that. They thought of the humans of Volterra the way a child might think of a pet chicken with pretty feathers: Not for eating. Caius in particular had thought the phrase, "don't shit where you eat." In this case, though, the eating was what fouled the nest.

We wouldn't be entering the data center itself. There would be line-of-sight security guards. There would be cameras. There would be vampires who'd recognize our faces. Also, this was a municipal facility in a city famous for modern data processing. It was public knowledge that it had a cloister program.

Months ago, Marjane had upgraded the Volterran compound's information security system with a new layer of protection. Cloisters were a new type of proactive security operating through modern wireless. Whenever any device capable of network access came within range, it transmitted a program that overrode its command features, demanding its location and identification number. (I'd tried to explain how it worked to Felix, but, "So it's like sonar?" was as far as we'd gotten. It didn't work like sonar, but the results were similar.) In effect, it required the device, whether it was a phone or a portable backscatter X-ray scanner, to show its credentials. At human corporate centers and government facilities, this was done openly, with the user being shown a screen explaining why their device had been remotely shut down. In Volterra, the device continued to operate normally while its files were quietly uploaded to the cloister database in our communications department.

The program was not passive. It had to scan the area for devices at set intervals, usually an hour. It was expensive and inefficient, complete overkill. Only the most vigilant of facilities bothered with anything remotely like it. Caius had ordered Marjane to install three, operating every ten minutes. Officially, the Anwar data center had a single program, but there were probably others that the human staff did not know about.

Marjane had also figured out how to beat them. All of our communications devices were equipped with a silencing program that resisted detection by relaying the signal further back to mimic a null result (or, for Felix, "So it's like a stealth plane?"). One of the human techs who'd assisted her had been rewarded with immortality.

She was confident in her work, our Marjane. She always was. So when she told me not to go within 100 meters of the Anwar data center unless absolutely necessary, I heeded her.

I'd spotted my mark twenty minutes earlier, a female with light Indian skin and brown hair. She was probably locally born, maybe even recruited for her human identity. The Romanians were known to take risks of that kind, and her thoughts spoke of familiarity with the town.

I was moving cautiously. I had not forgotten Olaf, dragged before the council just for being in Volterra (of course, he had turned out to be a spy). I felt less conflicted about his death than I had at the time. Poor soul.

The advance teams had noted the schedules of the night managers who ran the city on their masters' orders. They knew who went where and when. They knew who would not be missed. Years ago, Stefan and Vladmir's lack of organizational skill had led to the failure of their attempt to overthrow the Volturi and take their place. Now, they seemed to have erred in the opposite direction. Marcus had learned the danger of overpredictability years ago, upon the death of his wife Didyme.

My hands didn't shake, exactly, but there was a sense of stillness, of wrongness. This was our Rubicon. This was no small coven of nomads or loner who'd clearly broken the law. This was a powerful, gifted and very large group of vampires who had technically done nothing wrong. If we captured one of their agents in their own territory, there was no going back. Considering that we would be immediately interrogating and killing said agent, we couldn't even bluff it out with a claim that the Romanians had never explicitly said that the city was theirs. Technically, no coven was obliged to report their movements or holdings. If anything, lack of detection by our library teams was a prerequisite for holding territory.

Her name was Kamini and now that I was close enough to hear her memories, I could tell she was local. The city's university had attracted students from all over Europe and Asia. There were white humans in the data center, but not enough to keep a white vampire from being memorable. Kamini's human cover went all the way back to an undergraduate degree in data management, half of which had been earned online and the other half in night classes. I could see in her memories the long hair she'd shortened to a woman's professional cut, all the changes in clothing and makeup and presentation that she'd used to fake advancing age. The woman was a genius of an actress. A real artist.


Their techs were good but Marjane was better, having hacked their peripheral system weeks in advance. Many of the storefronts in this part of the city had security cameras that connected to the main hub. It was an impressive web, but it did have gaps. One of them was nearly twenty feet wide.

If anyone at the data center was watching, it would look like Kamini stepped off the sidewalk on one street and simply never reached the other side. In the unfortunate event that I'd been caught in the background of some merrymaker's video, then the only thing they'd see was me taking a woman by the hand and hurrying her off. In reality, I'd grabbed her hard enough to crush the call beacon in her bracelet. Her covenmates would realize what was happening, but none of the humans would. Our own laws remained unbroken.

Rolfe's knuckles cracked against her face. I couldn't turn away. It had been my idea, after all. She was vain. She'd react to losing her beauty and forget that she was going to lose every part of her body when we killed her. The mindless faith that we all had, the indomitable belief that as long as there was life there was still hope, worked against us. If we could accept that death was inevitable, we could accept the loss of fingers and eyes without fear of going lame or blind for the rest of our lives. It was a lot easier when you knew that the rest of your life would be measured in minutes.

"Your location, Kamini," Demetri said again. It would have gone quicker with Caroly, but she'd been assigned to another group, guiding a squadron of newborns.

The questions were meaningless, of course, only prompts to make her think of the answers. I extracted the information from her thoughts, built a detailed map in my mind. Felix held up the tablet as I quickly sketched it out. The prerendered map of the forest was now marked with six entrances to a stronghold. Underground of all things. The Romanians had worked quickly. The images in our captive's mind did not suggest the convenience or elegance of Volterra. Things like comfort and beauty were alien to her, things for humans. She had no concept of a vampire wanting or needing either. She had no appreciation for human art, and little for science beyond pure utility.

I no longer felt conflicted. The Volturi were the better custodians of the human world for the simple sake that they cared about the results of the people who lived in it, even if they cared little for the people themselves.

Within seconds, the map had been uploaded to similar pads held by all our team leaders. Within minutes, Caius's battle plan appeared, as did our new orders.

I held up my wrist and projected the tablet for Demetri to see and tried to tune out the mental screaming as Rolfe went to work on her arms. We'd be taking her body to the battlefield. She deserved the right to burn with her compatriots, and we couldn't risk either leaving her body or disposing of her here.

Kamini wasn't supposed to report in until the end of her shift, but her covenmates who'd also been assigned to the data center would notice that she was missing. It was the first, cold hint of what would come for the Romanians tonight.

Demetri's cool mind processed Caius' special instructions. If we couldn't create a complete map of the compound from the outside, we were going in.


There was a large wooded area to the west of the city. Some of it had been farmland years ago, but one of the factories had dumped untreated waste nearby. The skeletons of trees, some dead, some stunted, reached to the sky like accusing finger bones. The Romanian stronghold was in tunnels underneath it. According to Kamini, there were several exits, but she had only ever used two of them. Years of joint interrogations had taught me how to use my gift like a scalpel, dissecting away inconsequential details like dead membranes until I could see what I needed. Kamini had acute memories of her masters, one of whom had turned her personally during the early days of their investment in Anwar. I'd never seen Vladimir with my own eyes, but Caius's memories of the man were rich and vivid. Kamini pictured him in business clothes, a Western cut in Indian fabrics, with the wild gray hair that Caius remembered cut short and combed.

He was paranoid, Vladimir. Agents like Kamini were key to the Romanians' operation here, but he still told her only what he thought she needed to know. She had only seen two of the exits and entrances into the compound but knew there were more. She didn't know what kinds of missions her comrades completed. She didn't even know about her masters' calm newborns.

But she knew who we were. Even as Felix slung the sack with her dismembered body over his shoulder, her thoughts were racing. The Volturi. The hypocrites' minions. The bane of every freedom-loving immortal.

"I wish I were going with you," Felix said to Demetri as I tried to tune out Kamini's shrill thoughts. "Like the old days."

Demetri clapped him on the shoulder. In some ways, the two of them had been even better matched than Demetri, Caroly and myself. I'd been privileged to see them fighting in tandem only a few times so far. Felix had one move where he'd actually pick Demetri up and swing him into the enemy. I had to try that, but the only partners small enough for me to lift in that way were women Bella's size or smaller—Caroly was actually within an inch of my own height.

The truth was that I wished Felix were coming with us too. In my younger years, I wouldn't have wanted any help. In my first years in Volterra, I wouldn't have wanted Felix's help. I knew better now. I knew what our enemies were capable of, and Felix's strength was welcome. Of course, it helped that he rarely used that strength against me these days.

Felix himself was welcome too. He was a brute but not an irredeemable brute. He'd been frozen at a young age, before he'd grown out of his juvenile aggression and into real humanity. He wasn't a good person, not really, but he would have become one the way most schoolyard bullies grew up and tempered their strength. He was ordinary. It had been years since I'd feared him.

Rolfe was thinking that it could hardly be more perfect if it were something out of a James Bond movie. Caius had given us a number of contingency plans. Kamini had remembered guards at the easternmost entrance. Rolfe would silence them and then Demetri and I would enter the stronghold. He would scout for enemies while I harvested information. I would carry a holotablet, and as soon as we were clear of their transmission shield—which they might not even have, trusting earth and rock to block enemy signals—I would upload the information to our local network and Caius would select one of his many prepared strategies. By now, he'd assimilated what we'd learned from Kamini. Caroly, Bella and all the others would have reached the staging area. By midnight, we'd be storming an enemy fortress that none of us had ever seen.

The entrance was exactly where Kamini had said it was. It was well hidden from human detection but the scent of vampire wasn't thin on the ground. It could build up when there were many of us in an unventilated area, and this was definitely not ventilated.

I sensed two sets of thoughts. One guard was concealed outside, covered in a gilly suit with dirt and twigs, sitting perfectly still. The other was just inside. I relayed the information to Demetri and then watched him develop a plan. I missed Caroly when it came time to strategize, but then I tended to miss Caroly whenever she wasn't around.

I can take him, thought Rolfe. It'll be quick.

I held up two fingers and mouthed the words "Two of them!" Demetri put his hand on Rolfe's forearm and shook his head. There were three of us but they had the home court advantage.

I can DO this! Rolfe insisted like a fussing teenager. Before Demetri could order otherwise, he'd crossed the twenty meters between our hiding place and theirs and taken the concealed guard by the throat.

I registered Demetri's mental curse as I followed Rolfe at top speed. The Romanian hadn't fully comprehended what was happening—entrance duty was apparently a job for raw recruits—but his hand was already grasping at his clothes for the electrobauble that would trigger the compound's alarm system. As I darted past, I snatched it with a great tearing of cloth before pouncing on his cohort within the tunnel.

We'd been fast. It was clean work. But it shouldn't have happened at all. We could have lured them away from their posts like Caroly and I had done once in Glasgow.

"Rolfe," Demetri growled.

What? I was right, thought Rolfe, thoughts echoing strangely in what I was sure was an empty skull.

"Dispose of these two," finished Demetri. "Edward and I will complete the mission."

The guard's thoughts weren't much help. Too busy screaming.

I can help.

"You make too much noise," I murmured before Demetri could say anything more cutting. "Guard our exit." I nodded to the transmitter in his hands. "I won't be able to send information from down below. Keep it safe. Keep it ready." Leaving Rolfe to deal with the bodies, we headed in.

My last look at Rolfe's round face left him framed with dead branches against a shrinking circle of night sky as Demetri and I disappeared into the tunnel.

The entrance tunnel was long and narrow, giving me the impression of a coal mine from one of Emmett's stories, a good bottleneck for an invasion. The tunnel terminated in a security door with a keypad. I entered Kamini's code, and we crept into the enemy lair. From here on, our mission would be measured in minutes.

The inner walls were less haphazard, no longer designed for concealment. After all, they couldn't have vampires like Kamini show up to work in the city with their clothes covered in dust and dirt. Humans might have lined the walls with lime, but this was stonework, unfinished but solid, quarried and shaped by vampire fingers. I could see the marks clearly. Evidence. I had agreed with Caius that the Romanians were better destroyed sooner than later, but I felt less guilt now that I had a specific crime to lay at their feet.

My brain was working at top speed, taking and inputting all the information I could assimilate. The next difference from Volterra that I noticed was the absence of human servants. There was no scent of any. Humans would have meant installing air circulation and sewage systems for their physical needs. I inhaled again, catching a faint hint of skin and sweat. Fear. Any humans who came this way were food, and here weren't many of them, probably just fodder for the masters. The rest of the coven would be expected to feed in the city.

Demetri and I crept through the tunnel, which branched mercifully a few hundred yards down. I did not fancy being inevitably caught by enemies coming up to use the exit. This was not a palace the way Volterra was, comfortable and elegant and beautiful. This was a fortress only, utilitarian and sparse. The vampires here had surrendered convenience for safety, and they had done so gracelessly.

I motioned to Demetri, and we ducked into the five inches of shadow created by one of the stout wooden support beams. A dark-haired man was leaving the compound to feed. His mind was on his instructions; he was to take a human at the exact time and from the exact place he'd been told or he would have no food at all. Infractions were punished severely. It was the sort of discipline that the Romans had learned only after we had forced them to.

Carefully watching the man's movements through his thoughts, I motioned to Demetri and he slipped from his place like a shadow with hidden mass. Our enemy went down silently with a single blow to the neck. I had my hands on his head, separating and sectioning before a human could have drawn a breath. And with that, we had infiltrated the enemy base.

I stretched my power to its limit, detecting minds. Ten. Twenty... Fewer than I'd expected for the second-largest coven in the world, but still more than large enough. I wondered how they'd gotten that many vampires to live together without going for each other's throats. They had no Marcus to select the exact right person for the exact right team, no Chelsea to smooth the edges of people's aggression with her metal file of a talent. My maker Carlisle had once hypothesized that iron discipline and utterly regular habits could help vampires curtail their aggression, but that had been years ago. During the 1800s through the Depression, there had been a belief that regular habits, even things like sitting in straight, neat rows and always eating breakfast at the same time every day (preferably without speaking), could correct even criminal behavior. It had resulted in the modern prison system—and in the modern school system. Humans had later learned that people needed some deviation, personalization and interaction in order to remain healthy, but the vestiges of the old way remained.

We moved carefully through the compound. All the way, my device tracked our steps, creating a virtual map of the place just as I was creating a mental one. We had practiced this. The tablet interface on my arm had no tangible buttons or markings, but I had learned the rudiments of violin and knew the difference between stops and frets. I measured the spaces with my hands as I input information without taking my eyes off my path. I input hallway patterns, numbers of people, individual names when I could detect them. Marjane had done her work well. We would not give off any detectable signals until the it was safe to send information. Or until we could wait no longer.

For the first time in years, I was actually afraid of something other than my masters. Even though I could tell that no thinking minds had detected us, this low, enclosed space full of enemies frightened me. Worse, these were experienced vampires who were used to working indoors. A human might not think to check the shadows or ceiling for intruders, but these people would. None of my usual tricks would work. I tried to picture the rest of the guard, to remember the mental noise, the light and scent of Volterra, and the mental calm that came from knowing I was part of a completely committed whole. It was too far for me to hear the thoughts for real, but I knew my brethren would already be massing for the attack a few miles away. Once we transmitted our intel, some teams would guard the exits to pick off stragglers; Bella's fastest runners. Other teams would enter the fortress, driving the weak into waiting traps, engaging the strong. We would not all survive this night. On the trip to India, many times, I had tried to remember how to say a prayer. I still wasn't sure that I had a soul, but it couldn't hurt. It hadn't hurt.

Within the compound, things were concentrated. They didn't go out on missions the way the Guard did, though they did leave the compound to do their masters' will. There were always a few in the city, if only to keep the others abreast of what was happening there. Their architecture might have been rustic, but they used devices much like our own to convey information. Stefan and Vladimir might not have physically been in the city data center, but they remained in control nonetheless.

By touch, I implanted even these details into the device that Marjane had modified for me. Its physical casing was strapped to my wrist almost like an old-fashioned watch, but I still thought of it as a tablet. I tapped the side and it generated a rectangle in the shape of an old-fashioned smartbook, holding its position as I moved my hands further.

It was a high-end projection. It didn't even glow. These things could appear perfectly solid until you put your hand through one. In my case, I would touch the place where the screen seemed to be and the electromagnetic field would respond to the presence of my fingers, almost as if I were typing on a physical keyboard.

It didn't matter if the device was detected because practically everyone had and used them. The woman we'd captured in the city had had one on her fingernail and another in her purse. The electromagnetic field that they gave off was smaller than that emitted by an old-style cellular phone. The only downside was that it couldn't transmit underground. Demetri and I would have to return to the surface to complete our mission.

The thoughts that I did hear were focused on the center of the compound. Well, it wasn't geographically the center, but it was the strongest point and the largest area to gather. From the scent pricking my nostrils, it was also where at least a little feeding took place. I put a hand on Demetri's shoulder and we veered to the periphery. This place reminded me of a giant spiderweb, and I didn't not wish to become a fly just yet. In due course. I'd already been swallowed by a chimera. I did not wish to be food for Shelob.

How much more? my partner asked. He was not used to being on this side of tracking. I reached out and touched his forearm with four fingertips. We were about forty percent done with our task. His thoughts cleared. He understood. Then we could begin the next.

He partner held up a hand. Eight minutes, I read in his thoughts. Whatever we couldn't gather in that time, we would have to do without. I was sure I could get more given more time, but I trusted Demetri's gift and conventional instincts the way I'd used to breathe air.

The place was perfect, and symbolically fitting. The Department of Forestry needed to stop feeling guilty about the trees in this part of the woods. They hadn't succumbed to disease; the root systems had been disrupted during the construction process.

Through it all, I kept my mental eyes peeled for any sign of Andrew's nomad. It was one thing for him not to be at home, but if I could collect a Romanian memory of him, I might learn his name or the details of his mission to overthrow us.

Demetri and I kept to the shadows. In most covens, a vampire learned to be stealthy enough to avoid detection by humans, but it was rare to find vampires who practiced being stealthy enough to avoid detection by our own kind least outside the guard.

The tunnels were narrow with unexpected turns and blind corners. Anyone defending this place would have an advantage over someone unfamiliar with it. Clearly, the Romanians had been expecting to be attacked sooner or later. For now, this compound was incomplete. Only parts of it had been faced with stone. We were approaching a rougher area. There were wood supports holding up a planked and earthen ceiling. I realized the plan inherent in the layout of this place. It was barely larger than the secondary feeding chamber in Volterra, and the old scent wafting up from the floor said that it had once been used for a similar purpose. We couldn't be more than twenty feet below the surface, or the simple carpentry that I could see would never be able to support the weight of all that earth and plant matter. With no fear of suffocating, anyone buried alive in the event of a collapse would be able to dig themselves out in a matter of hours. It was a good system for a temporary headquarters.

I touched Demetri on the arm and spoke in signs.

"The main gathering chamber is further down. I hear voices. At least twenty. This place is still under construction." I smiled. If Bella were here, she'd tell us we were infiltrating the second Death Star before it was fully operational. Then she'd probably make a snide comment about Aro being more like evil Emperor than anyone we might be fighting tonight.

"How many newborns?" he asked.

"No normal ones," I answered. "Calm ones sound like adults."

I could hear a woman approaching and put a hand on Demetri's arm. We'd planned for this. Patterns of tension in my fingers indicated how many, how far away, how fast. I'd based it on Caius and Aro. She walked into a side tunnel. Her mind contained fresh images of Stefan and Vladimir. Caius would be pleased. Both his prizes were at home.

I focused on the mental voice to find out where she was going. She was thinking about her shift in the city tonight, of her next meal. Her feet were on autopilot, but I managed to get some idea of the pictures in her head as she approached what appeared to be a clothing repository. They had several of the home dry cleaning units that had hit the market over the past few years. It wasn't as if they were able to install plumbing underground. I held in a grimace. Finding out how the Romanians kept their underwear clean was fascinating, but it wasn't going to help us during the attack.

I got Demetri's attention and signed, "She's going to come this way."

Demetri concealed himself in the shadows, and I did the same. For the compound of the second most paranoid coven on the planet, there were a lot of blind corners. In a few minutes, the woman headed toward the entrance behind us, carrying a pair of high-heeled shoes in her hand.

They had no idea that they were all going to die tonight. She wasn't even on edge. She wasn't even worried.

Demetri dispatched her silently. I motioned for him to give me her head, which he did. I looked carefully into her dull red eyes, leafing through the panic in her brain the way I might leaf through a book of recipes. This was more fruitful by far than watching while she prepared for work. Surprise. She was very surprised to see us. And indignant. She recognized Demetri and me as Aro's famous servants, and she was indignant. From her perspective, we were in the wrong. We were tyrants and hypocrites, just as her masters had told her. Her masters were merely tyrants.

What's wrong? Demetri asked.

I shook my head. I didn't know yet. Something was off. Maybe it was just nerves. Demetri would write it off as my oversensitive philosophy, holdover for my days in the Cullen cult, and we would continue our mission. Perhaps, if he was suitably bored on the trip home, he would ask me what I had been thinking, and then I would tell him, and he would scold me for letting my mind wander so when there was work to be done.

The truth was that I didn't think that this all added up. The Romanian woman should have been ready for us, or at least should have recognized what was happening right away. The same was true of Kamini and the guards that Rolfe had torn apart at the entrance tunnel. We'd been halfway through her limbs before she'd understood who had attacked her and why.

It didn't necessarily mean anything. She didn't look newly turned, but how should I know? She may have been a nomad who'd only just joined the coven and not yet earned enough trust to be made privy to long-term, high-stakes plans.

But ...I could only sense one group of minds below us. When they weren't hunting, they all stayed in one room. How could they keep secrets?

I handed the tablet to Demetri and pressed my ear against the floor. He would watch for enemies as I concentrated. Stefan and Vladmir appeared to be reviewing the latest news from the city, and their attendants had quieted to listen to their masters speak. They were still working out an intelligence network, like our library crew. I blinked. They had a few fine ideas about it too. We'd been good about incorporating the blogosphere into the old-fashioned newspaper regimen, but we'd had more difficulty with the looser networks, the places where people really talked about what they'd seen and heard. Of course, our work was different. We were looking for vampires who'd evaded the law. The Romanians were looking for us.

I ran my hands through the information that they had on our movements. It changed in tone and completeness, as uneven as a rock. But their spy had been keeping them informed. Lydia knew far more than they seemed to know. But perhaps they simply weren't thinking about the greater details right now. I would indeed have thought it was only my own shortcomings except...

Demetri was staring at me. He could see that I was agitated but I could not tell him why.

Are there too many of them? he asked. Do they have too many fighters?

I shook my head. In Demetri's eyes, the worst thing that could happen was a Volturi defeat, but a retreat was a close second. Anything that showed weakness or fear could weaken Aro's rule.

As we grew closer, the cable of unfamiliar voices split apart, like the fibers of a plant. I could see how many there were. I tapped on Demetri's arm.

What, thirty? Twenty-five or so, actually but close enough. I nodded with a shrug. Poor things. The guard numbered about forty, plus ten novices, and we were the best fighters in the vampire world. We had the highest proportion of gifted individuals. We had the best strategists, the best intelligence network and the most practice working in units. Best of all, our leaders did not think that this made them invincible. Caius and Aro's paranoia would never fade.

But twenty-five vampires... Nothing in our intelligence had suggested anything of this size. We could match them, to be sure. If Stefan and Vladimir had been able to hide this, what else had they been able to hide? And how were they keeping their followers from going for each other's throats? I sobered. We hadn't caught them recruiting—Aro kept an eye open for gifted individuals and two eyes open for the Romanians, so Romanians recruiting gifted individuals was what Bella would have called his "evil catnip"—so it was likely that many of these had been turned in-house. But then...

But that would only be a serious tactical advantage under two sets of circumstances: If they had some means of detecting humans who would grow into gifted vampires, something that not even Eleazar had been able to do, or if they were performing an experiment with vampire psychology. From what I knew of them, the Romanian masters didn't share Aro's enthusiasm for scientific method.

Carlisle had once speculated to me that one reason why the Cullens could live together was because more than half of us were of the same bloodline, making us subconsciously friendly to one another. I'd disagreed. In Jasper's stories, almost all his newborns had been turned by either him or Maria, but they fought against each other as viciously as against anyone else.

It was Carlisle's influence, I'd thought in those days, but in recent years, with all the attention I'd paid to Bella and the mystery of her mind, I'd had another hypothesis.

Maybe it was because Jasper, Emmett and Rosalie had all been turned in environments with lots of other vampires around. Maybe it was that, as their minds had settled into a new shape, the idea of a large coven had become part of their normalization process, like socializing a pack beast. It was possible, and we'd done it for our own newborns without even planning to.

The Volturi had been fearsome long before discovering calm newborns. They'd had a near monopoly on unity. No other coven of comparable size had been able to organize and stay organized. It was considered all but impossible. The Volturi were like magic in people's thoughts.

But what if the Romanians had managed to do it too?

It was frustrating to have to wonder. I should be able to just look. Caroly's gift for group dynamics could have answered my question immediately, could have shown us what we were up against. But she wasn't here and we were.

The mental voices beneath me went quiet. One person was speaking. And he was speaking about... About nothing in particular, but it was a nothing that meant everything. It sent a chill through my blood as I realized what had been bothering me since we'd broken into this keep.

I entered the information into the pad. Then I looked at Demetri and motioned back the way we'd come.

Did you get it all?

I shook my head no. I didn't complete the map of the stronghold, but I had something else, something that mattered far more.

What is it, Brother?

I motioned back the way we'd come. We had to get out of here. We had to tell the others what they were getting into. Caius hadn't planned for this.

I moved as quickly as I could without making any noise. That was the real reason Caroly hadn't come with us. She was too bulky to be really quiet. She could fool any human she wished, but Demetri and I were like nothing, like the sound of dust.

It seemed like hours before I saw the faint light of the night sky ahead of us. Rolfe would still be gone, stashing the bodies until they could be burned. I reached the door first, but Demetri grabbed my arm. Carefully, he sank down to one knee, checking for traps. I took in a shaky breath. Of course the traps on the doors were geared to reset when closed. Half the exterior doors in our own keep were rigged that way.

It's been decades since you were that careless. What is it?

"No calm newborns," I whispered.

What do you mean? I thought you couldn't tell them from adults.

"There are no calm newborns here."

So they raise the newborns elsewhere. All the better for tonight's battle if their forces are split into two groups. He made a mental note to add finding this new location to our mission. Something like that might merit postponing the attack.

I shook my head. I'd meant that the vampires in this place didn't have memories of dealing with newborns, calm or otherwise, at all. Demetri knew how many vampires we would be up against; that much I'd been able to telegraph, but he thought that at least some of them would be calm newborns. He was mentally preparing to deal with smashingly powerful half-trained warriors, like the ones in Xian. Everyone here was full-grown and most of them were experienced. Every single one of Caius's plans had involved the same assumption.

And that wasn't even the worst part.

Comprehension dawned in my brother's mind.

If they weren't the ones who attacked us...

"Then someone else is," I said.

The Romanians had been scheming to take my masters' place for centuries, but they'd never managed to surpass them. They'd had the second most populous coven. The second most powerful servants. The second best tactical planning.

Which meant that any third party who wanted to take over would have to take out two covens, not just one.

And how did you do that? You set them against each other. Then you came in when they were weak and unsuspecting and mopped up the survivors. It wouldn't be easy. Hardly anyone would dare to do it without some key advantage.

Like figuring out how to copy the Volturi's extra-powerful servants, extra fast.

"We need to tell Caius," said Demetri, figuring it out just as I did. "This won't carry on the network. We need to get you to Aro." Call off the attack. They had to call off the attack.

I nodded intently, stepping off toward the trees until Demetri was only a silhouette against the dark sky. I forced my mind to clear. Our master would know what to do. He'd lift the information out of my head and he would know what to do, and then I would know what to do.

I was stopping to wonder how Caius would react when I saw another shadow approach Demetri. I blinked hard as, smug thoughts bursting into furious life where I could have sworn there had only been silence a moment earlier.

"I'm afraid," a familiar voice told him, "that I can't let you do that."


Thank you so much for sticking with me through a six-month hiatus. I took some time off to write something in another fandom, something highly time-sensitive, and I'm very glad I did because it's probably my best work.

One of the things I do like about this chapter was that I was able to work with the role of technology in the Volturi mission. It's pretty hard to predict where things will go. (In the 1980s, few people realized how big of a deal the Internet was going to be. How many future stories from the 1800s include things like radio, antibiotics or modern mass communication?) Unlike a lot of the things like cite, I did not read about the cloister program in the news. The inspiration for the cloister program came from R. Burlew's Order of the Stick #532. It's online. It's fabulous.

drf24 (at) columbia (dot) edu